Authentication of a Reminiscence


In 1980 I visited Gladys Hansen who was then the chief of the San Francisco History Room in the old Main library on Larkin Street. Gladys watched over her domain like a mother hen and I always had a sense that she thought of these as her personal papers. In fact, the collection I had perused the most was what she called her “hippie papers.” At that time, the special collections room was situated in the most out-of-the way furthest corner on the top floor of the library—away from nearly all normal patron traffic. It was a well-kept secret in those days. Even now, in the new Main library which was built across the street, the SF History room is little known and used. But that just adds to its mystique. For it is truly a real archival institution, with all the attendant procedures and protocols that rare book rooms evoke. Gladys is long retired from the Library but her legacy lives on, as will be seen in this present story.

In 1980, I had been coming to visit Gladys and her special collections for several years, in search of Digger and Communication Company street sheets and counterculture ephemera. On this particular occasion, I had a question for Gladys about Ringolevio, the book that Emmett Grogan had written and published in 1972, and which tells the story of the San Francisco Diggers. On the Acknowledgments page, Emmett had listed Gladys as the first of several librarians he wished to recognize for their assistance in the researching and writing of the book.

On that day in 1980, I asked Gladys about the acknowledgment which Emmett had written to her. As was (and still is) my wont, I scribbled down her response into my pocket notebook: “She got a call from the publisher asking for what they had (or maybe already knowing) and then asking her to microfilm the scrapbooks. She did this and the publisher paid for it. That’s all she did with the book. She didn’t speak to Emmett. The publisher was very happy—said this was the only place that could supply them with these clippings. (Aug 2 1980)”

hansen ringolevio scrapbooks 3-mod

I had totally forgotten about this reminiscence in the intervening years. In fact, I had somehow assumed that Emmett had spent time visiting Gladys and her “hippie” collection personally. Then, this morning I was preparing to head off to a workshop put on by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute that was to take place in the SF History Room. The event was quite intriguing. It was a show-and-tell by the librarians of some of the archival materials that David Talbot used in writing his history of San Francisco in the 1970s, Season of the Witch. Before leaving for the event, I was in the archives room rearranging one of the file cabinets when I happened upon that pocket notebook and then happened to turn to that exact page with the notation of Gladys’ answer about Ringolevio. This simple notation told me that I had been misstating the story of Emmett’s involvement with Gladys and her special collections lo these many years.

When the librarian who led the tour of the archives (Christina Moretta) took us into the special viewing room, she had laid out samples of the archival collections that Talbot had used in writing his history of 1970s San Francisco. There on the first table was a thick scrapbook with clippings from the two San Francisco daily newspapers in the 1960s and 70s: the San Francisco Chronicle and the Examiner. The embossed title on the spine of this notebook read: “Hippies Vol I.” It turns out there are two volumes.

Here, finally, was the authentication of that long-ago reminiscence which had surfaced amazingly this very morning. This was one of the scrapbooks that Gladys Hansen had microfilmed for Emmett’s publisher and that Emmett used in writing Ringolevio. Below is a photo of Christina Moretta, our tour leader in the SF History Room special collections room. And on the table can be seen the scrapbook with its clippings, Hippies Vol. I.

20160727_112542~2

This whole episode—stumbling across a notation now almost 36 years old on the very day that its reminiscence would be validated—reminds me of a quote that has stuck with me always since I first read it many decades ago:

To authenticate a reminiscence, to ferret out small facts and make large inferences, to see connections, to ambulate mentally — these are the tasks of detectives who work with books. The wider their frame of reference and the keener their skills, the more productive their detection. They need two guardians as well: a firm and unwavering skepticism at their right hand and the Prince of Serendip at their left. Then their adventures will be all but limitless, for the books that possess them are the record of life itself.—Adventures of a Literary Sleuth by Madeleine B. Stern

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